'No major change to health scheme': Thailand

THE Public Health Ministry has denied that it is planning to scrap or drastically change the universal healthcare scheme.

"The scheme will definitely remain in place. People won't be affected. It's just that we've been discussing how to make it sustainable," Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn said last week.

The minister was trying to play down mounting public concern that serious discussion over the scheme may lead to its demise.

Currently, about 48 million Thais enjoy access to most kinds of medical treatment at no cost under the scheme.

While the scheme has garnered international praise, economists and health experts are worried about the huge financial burden it imposes on state coffers.

Recently, word has spread that authorities are considering the option of introducing co-payments, which will require patients to pay a fee for some of the services they receive. Criticism has been growing since this has emerged.

Piyasakol said his ministry would meet tomorrow with a committee tasked with mobilising resources for the sustainability of the country's national health security scheme.

Dr Ammar Siamwalla, an expert in health insurance at the Thailand Research Development Institute, serves as an adviser to the committee. Dr Suwit Wibulpolprastert, a former specialist at the Public Health Ministry, is its chairman.

"We will listen to the recommendation from the committee that has already studied the issues," Piyasakol said.

'Japan forced to scrap its scheme'

Dr Yong Poovorawan of Chulalongkorn University said on Facebook that no one should ignore the problems associated with the universal healthcare scheme, which started as a Bt30-per-medical-visit programme more than a decade ago. Japan had implemented such a scheme and was compelled to ditch it in the end, he said.

Britain was still going ahead with its version but with far fewer |participating providers, he said.

After the Bt30 scheme was launched, Yong said Thailand could not introduce new free vaccinations for children.

So, he believed it had weakened the country's ability to prevent disease.

Yong urged people or non-|government organisations that oppose a co-payment for health services to look at the situation realistically.

"Co-payment will reduce the risk of the healthcare system |collapsing. It will also raise the standards of the medical services provided," he said.